Labour conference debrief and next steps for the left – Richard Burgon MP, Rachel Garnham and Gemma Bolton


“We are now seeing a ‘Thatcherism 2.0’ with the revival of trickle-down economics, and Truss driving a new full-throated neo-liberalism which amounted to a new war on the working class.”

By Ben Folley, Labour Outlook

Hundreds of activists joined NEC representative Gemma Bolton, Richard Burgon MP and former Labour NEC member Rachel Garnham at Arise’s online discussion to assess the Labour’s Annual Conference in Liverpool and the chaos of the Conservative Conference the week following. You can read the report-back or watch it in full below:

WATCH: Labour Conference report-back and next steps discussion – with Richard Burgon, Rachel Garnham and Gemma Bolton.

Richard Burgon started off assessing the economic events of Wednesday 28 September – the day Labour conference closed and the Bank of England intervening in the government bond market.

He compared them to ‘Black Wednesday’ of 1992, when the Conservative government of John Major was seen to lose economic credibility and associated the events with the sudden emergence of a major poll lead for Labour over the Conservatives across multiple polling companies.

However he said we can take no pleasure in the Tory poll collapse, given the distance of the next General Election. He said, we need to boot out the Tories at the next election and the next Labour government must be transformative.

But he also said we are now seeing a ‘Thatcherism 2.0’ with the revival of trickle-down economics, and Truss driving a new full-throated neo-liberalism which amounted to a new war on the working class.

Burgon said people are seeing pay and social security cut now, public services at risk, and the Conservatives planning a new low tax, reduced regulation agenda. He welcomed the u-turn on the 45p income tax rate, but said the vast majority of unfunded tax giveaways remain in place, benefiting the richest 40 times better than the poorest, and that the Tories want to make the poorest pay for these cuts through real terms cuts to public services and benefits.

Stressing the need to stand with people, shoulder to shoulder, with those fighting back, he stated that he had been proud as a Labour MP to back striking workers, and that every strike was a success for all workers.

Looking at Labour conference, the MP for Leeds East welcomed a number of frontbench announcements, including on railway public ownership, council houses, municipal bus companies but said these can only be the start and that the last election showed the danger of not arguing for transformative policies early enough. He advocated for the frontbench to adopt members priorities with bold policies on public energy, £15ph minimum wage, rent freezes and wealth tax.

Rachel Garnham looked more closely at the events of Labour conference, setting out that despite the anger and disappointment with the Starmer leadership, we need a Labour government and that any Labour government with a strong trade union movement and a strong Labour left can have a positive impact.

She said there had been no great enthusiasm on conference floor for specific policy announcements from the frontbench during conference and that certain announcements, like GB Energy, in fact reflected a retreat from commitments in the 2019 manifesto.

While it was welcomed that the Shadow Cabinet recognised the benefits of rail public ownership, Rachel explained that it was necessary to build on that and convince them to see the merit of removing profit from other utilities such as water.

She expressed concern at an ongoing overly disciplinary culture which she argued amounted to an abuse of the rule book, including the exclusion of delegations from conference with no right of appeal and reports of suspensions of delegates for points made from the conference rostrum.

Noting that support for constitutional amendments showed a weakened left on the conference floor on some votes, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) Vice-Chair stated that some conference votes showed the possibility of building a broader left alliance.

She welcomed policies passed, including those in support of inflation-proofed public sector pay and the conference support for Labour MPs joining picket lines, and argued for members to be active defending left MPs in trigger ballots and reselections.

To questions from the audience about the role of the left in the party, Richard Burgon said the Labour party, like the labour movements trade unions, are the creation of the working class and are a contested political space. A leadership hostile to the left is not new or unprecedented but the party is where the majority of the country’s socialists organise and it can command millions of votes and can form government.

To the same question, Rachel Garnham said fighting the Tories and their austerity needs to be done inside the Labour Party and outside the Labour Party. Make the arguments in party and remind the party ‘austerity-lite’ before 2015 didn’t work, but also join the campaigns of the unions and the wider movement. 

The meeting closed with a mood of determination, noting the inclusion of 999 call handlers in the latest CWU strike, the historic opening of a strike ballot in the Royal College of Nursing and an impending ballot from the National Education Union, with activists urged to show their support for the unions.

Featured Image: Conference hall at the Labour Party Conference 2016

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